Convention season ain’t over till the dead cat bounces. A dead cat bounce, as followers of the animal spirits of the market know, is a small recovery in the value of a declining asset. As the wisdom of those who work in tall buildings has it, even a dead cat bounces if you drop it from a high window.
The week before the Democratic convention, the polls showed Donald Trump trimming Biden’s double-digit lead into single figures. The numbers varied, but they averaged out to suggest that Biden was 7 or 8 percent ahead — not yet within the margin of error, but trending toward it.
The Democrats’ non-conference that was nearly in Milwaukee was meant to arrest that decline. Biden’s numbers, the punditry promised, would be sent soaring by Kamala Harris, just as Hillary Clinton gained 4 percent in the polls after the 2016 Democratic convention. But a week after that tedious infomercial, three polls show that Biden has pulled off the near-impossible.
Biden hasn’t just failed to achieve a post-conference bounce. The four-day blast of hot air from the Democrats has hoisted Biden by his own petard, and boosted support for Donald Trump, including in the swing states where it matters most. Look at the trend in three polls that came out on Wednesday:
- A Reuters/Ipsos online poll found no change in voter intention, with Biden still leading by 47 percent to Trump’s 40 percent
- A CNBC/Change Research poll of likely voters in six swing states (Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin) showed that approval of Trump has risen in the last two weeks from 46 percent to 48 percent, and disapproval fallen from 54 percent to 52 percent
- In four of those six swing states, Biden’s lead over Trump was within the margin of error: Arizona (Biden 49 percent, Trump 47 percent), Florida (Biden 49 percent, Trump 46 percent), North Carolina (Biden 49 percent, Trump 47 percent) and Pennsylvania (Biden 49 percent, Trump, 46 percent)
- A Zogby Analytics national poll found that Trump’s approval rating had reached 52 percent: his best job approval rating yet, and slightly higher than the 51 percent that Rasmussen recorded at the end of the Democratic convention
- Perhaps most interesting of all, the Zogby Analytics poll found that Trump’s job-approval rating among African American voters has improved sharply, despite the launch of Kamala Harris as Biden’s vice-presidential nominee
- Among African American voters, 36 percent ‘at least somewhat approved’ of Trump (up from 27 percent)
- Among African Americans aged 18 to 29, 54 percent ‘at least somewhat approved’ of Trump
- In major cities, 59 percent ‘at least somewhat approved’ of Trump
‘Why is Trump performing well with voters when he shouldn’t be?’ Zogby Analytics asks. ‘How in the world are things close again?’
One answer is that things always were close. Biden quite possibly never was 14 percent ahead, as CNN claimed. Another is that Harris never was the magic bullet that would revitalize Biden’s image and sell him to black voters. A third is that rioting, looting and calling anyone who disagrees with you a racist might not be the best way to reach swing voters.
A fourth reason is that when voters with better things to do than follow politics watched the Democratic convention, they didn’t like what they saw: a two-ring circus of identity politics grievance with a ringmaster so raddled by age that he is more likely to crack a hip than crack the whip.
Trump and Biden will strain to get out their respective bases in November, but it will be the middle 10-20 percent of voters who decide the result. The number of undecided voters has declined sharply, from 22 percent in 2016 to 14 percent now. And how secure exactly is Biden and Harris’s standing among black voters in particular?
Now, all these polls can be wrong. But if they are wrong, they’re wrong in the same way. It’s striking that all of them contain findings that go against the received wisdom of the media and the pollsters. We should expect to find an exaggerated boost to Biden after the Democratic convention, and a related decline in Trump’s standing. Instead, we see the opposite: Biden stagnant and Trump rising — even before he gets a post-convention bounce of his own.
The fur will only start to fly at the end of September, with the first debate. Either way, the result in November will be tight. But I’ll stick out a paw of prognostication now: in early September, several national polls will show Biden’s lead over Trump shrinking into the margin of error, and Trump edging ahead in a couple of swing states where he is now behind.